Siskel Center showcases female directors, contemporary Palestinian life

The 16th annual Chicago Palestine Film Festival, in collaboration with the Gene Siskel Film Center, screened a variety of films focusing on contemporary Palestinian life. The festival, which runs through May 4th, was made possible by the Crossroads Fund and volunteers.

Three of FF2 Media’s Chicago team members (Stephanie A. Taylor, Brigid K. Presecky and Georgiana E. Presecky) reviewed the films by female filmmakers, ultimately collaborating on a “Best of the Fest” list ranked from highest to lowest. Read below.

The Seventh Summit. Lebanon/Nepal/USA.  

Elia Youssef directs an inspiring documentary about four mountain climbers who plan to conquer Alaska’s Mt. Denali, the highest mountain peak in North America. The experienced team of Mohanned, Masoud, Raed and Suzanne (the first Arab woman to climb six of the seven summits, including Mt. Everest) have only one summit left to climb, Mt. Denali.

With only a 40-50% success rate, the four climbers experience many trials, including harsh weather conditions that slow their climbing schedule. Viewers will watch in anticipations, especially as Suzanne attempts her fourth climb (the first three attempts  were hindered due to severe and hazardous weather conditions).

They will be on pins and needles throughout the entire endeavor, particularly when Raed suffers from physical pain and exhaustion. And among these strong men was an equally strong woman matching their strenuous capabilities. Youssef’s film is an exciting, inspirational documentary about the power of endurance. (SAT: 5/5)

Namour. USA.

Heidi Saman’s film debut Namour tells the story of a young Los Angeles-based valet who’s hit his quarter-life crisis. The relatable story finds Steven Bassem (Karim Saleh) in the 2008 recession, dealing with a stagnant career and his Arab-American immigrant family’s separation.

Viewers can relate to Steven immediately, especially anyone who has ever worked in the service industry – feeling mistreated and, moreover, invisible. And if not there, surely viewers can find similarities with Steven’s family, whose parents are divorcing and grandmother moving to a nursing home.

The sense of uncertainty and dissatisfaction, especially for all twentysomethings, is encapsulated through Saleh’s character he portrays so believably. He balances the past and the future, traditional culture and environmental adaptation with supreme realness, themes that will resonate with any viewer. Currently available on Netflix. (BKP: 4/5)

Personal Affairs. Israel. In Arabic with English subtitles. Maha Haj writes and directs a thought-provoking film about an elderly married couple, Saleh (Mahmoud Shawahdeh) Nabeela (Sanaa Shawahdeh) as they grow tired of both their routine and each other. Nabeela shuts him out emotionally and copes with life by knitting and watching soap operas.

Their son, Hisham (Ziad Bakri), who lives in Sweden, convinces his brother Tarek (Doraid Liddawi) to check on their parents. Tarek also has trouble with commitment and refuses to settle down with his pregnant sister’s friend, Maysa (Maisa Abd Elhadi). Meanwhile, the sister (Hanan Hillo), cares for a their grandmother (Jihan Dermelkonian) who often wanders around the house, going in and out of sound mind.

This film had several plots within one, making it feel dragged out and busy, from the old married couple with a troubled marriage to their commitment-phobic son and Maysa. It slowly made sense as to why the film was called Personal Affairs. Everyone had their separate things going on and, yet, the family was intertwined. The deep film can serve as a discussion piece that will certainly make people think. (SAT: 2.5/5)

The Occupation of the American Mind: Israel’s Public Relations War in the United States

Loretta Alper and Jeremy Earp’s documentary provides a look into the intersection of American “mainstream media” and the U.S. perception of the Israeli-Palestine conflict. Israel’s public relations efforts date back to the 1980s, and according to several interviewed experts and endless clips from popular U.S. news shows, Americans typically see the conflict from the Israeli side. “Israeli security vs. Palestinian terrorism” is the lens through which we’ve viewed the Gaza strip, from both parties and both kinds of biased networks and newspapers. 

Alper, Earp and their several credible sources claim that we are being misinformed and propagandized, and it’s a bit hard to swallow as an American consumer of media, no matter how skeptical one may be. The documentary is well-researched, tightly edited and credible, but its persuasive appeals might put off some viewers. (GEP: 3.5/5)

© FF2 Media Team (5/2/17) FF2 Media

Photos: The Seventh Summit, Namour and Personal Affairs

Photo Credits: Gene Siskel Film Center

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